Hey Conan O’Brien, Matt LeBlanc Wasn’t Lying: ‘Mush’ Is a Thing

The former ‘Friends’ star shared his insight on some unique Newton lingo, but O’Brien didn’t buy it.

By | Arts & Entertainment |

When actor Matt LeBlanc, of “Friends” fame, told Conan O’Brien that back in the day in Newton he used the words “mush” and “Quister jival” with his friends, the late-night talk show host wasn’t buying it.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” O’Brien said, calling out LeBlanc for seemingly making up his own lingo.

But as it turns out, LeBlanc, who grew up in the Newton village of Nonantum, wasn’t lying about the linguistics that flourish in the area.

As he explained, Nonantum is a predominantly Italian neighborhood, and within it not only are there a lot of unique characters, but there was also at one point in time some unique language as well. “’Mush’ is like, uh, ‘hey dude,’” LeBlanc told O’Brien on Wednesday night, when he appeared on his show. He said “Quister jival” means “really pretty girls.”

Unsurprisingly, O’Brien insisted “No it doesn’t,” but Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce, said LeBlanc was telling no lies.

“They are definitely real words,” said Reibman, who has lived in the city for more than 20 years. “There was this guy named Fat Pellegrini, and he was this old, kind of classic Nonantum guy who sponsored all of the street fairs and raised money for the village. I have heard him use the term ‘mush’ before. It’s definitely something people say—or did say. It’s like a buddy thing. It was a thing.”

Pellegrini even said as much during an interview with the Globe in 2009. The Globe writes:

The mark of a true, old-school [Nonantum] resident is talent for the so-called Lake language—a collection of words and phrases believed to have roots in Romany, a language spoken by Gypsy immigrants from Europe, and brought back to the Lake early this century by local youths who worked for a time with traveling carnivals.

“Quister jival,” explained Pellegrini. “That means ‘pretty girl.’”

Reibman said he doesn’t know if one gets slapped when they say it, but it’s a term from the era. “I know that they have some roots in that kind of Italian lingo that is part of the village. In a lot of ways Nonantum is a niche village, because they have a cultural heritage where they are streets colored with the Italian flag. They have a big Italian festival in July and August. When you go to the festival, you don’t believe you’re in Newton. It’s totally a different kind of culture and crowd.”

The other thing that O’Brien got wrong during the interview, Reibman said, was that O’Brien, a Brookline native, referred to Newton as a town, when, in fact, it’s actually a city.

O’Brien made the mistake when he was comparing his hometown with LeBlanc’s, and said the two were rivals. While that part is certainly true, O’Brien’s other talking points certainly fell flat.

So there, it’s settled. “Jivals” is a real thing.

  • Gail Spector

    Nice job. But I disagree. I think Conan O’Brian was laughing so hard because he was realizing that, growing up, he had never left Brookline. http://bit.ly/1aNwDqX

  • Lynelle Leclair

    Newton is primarily a suburb full of million dollar+++ homes, professional types, etc. It is a City made up of many villages as well, Newton Center, Auburndale, Waban, etc., and one being Nonantum, filled with Italians with huge hearts and strong family ties- and as my Waspy yet understanding Mom use to say to me re the questionable activities of some of the inhabitants there, ” You know Dear some people go through life not doing anything wrong-…but they dont do anything right either!” alluding to Mr Pelligrini and his buds raising $ for the Annual Christmas Parade for years which provided gifts for underprivileged kids, also bringing flowers and food items to the homes of grieving widows, and financing religious and Veterans parades, etc.

  • Divya Mush

    Thank you Lynelle, we appreciate those kind words. We have been looked down upon for many years and it is heart warming to see the positive recognition.